pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Love Like Jesus

Reading: Luke 10: 25-28

Verse 25: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

An expert in the law comes to test Jesus and to justify himself. The lawyer wants to be right and to make Jesus look wrong. The man’s question is focused on something almost all people wrestle with: eternal life. In verse 25 he asks Jesus, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”. Instead of giving an answer, Jesus draws the lawyer deeper into the heart of the issue. Jesus doesn’t want to just give an answer, he wants to be able to unpack the answer as well. Jesus asks the man what he thinks. The self-righteous, arrogant lawyer takes the bait and he has the right answer. In the culture of the day, a young Jewish child could easily come up with this answer.

The man’s answer is our answer as well. The first step towards inheriting eternal life is to love God completely. One must love God with all of one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength. Once filled with the love of God, one is led to step two. One is naturally led to love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus would go on to amend this too. In John 13:34 we are directed to love one another as Jesus first loved us. Jesus’ standard for love is one that is complete and unconditional. When one invests time studying Jesus in the Gospels, one finds the example of selfless and sacrificial love. Jesus loved and ministered to every single person who came to him, from the lawyer in today’s passage to the prostitute to the widow to the tax collector to the hungry crowd to the lame, deaf, mute, leper… Not once did Jesus place his wants or needs ahead of another’s needs.

The lawyer’s question is personal and selfish: what must I do? He knows the two commands but is focused on self. The two commands do not involve the word “I”. Neither did Jesus’ understanding of loving God and loving neighbor. At times I can find myself asking the same selfish question as the lawyer. In those moments my concern for the other is minimal at best. My culture and my nature tends towards the selfish. The call, though, is to love God and to love neighbor. Daily the self must die so that I can love God and others unconditionally. As Jesus said, “Do this and you will live”. May it be so.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, your model of love is the one I strive for. Help me, through the power of your Holy Spirit, to love God and to love neighbor fully and without hesitation. Kill the fleshy man within me. Build up my love for God and for others. Amen.

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Belong

Reading: Mark 3: 31-35

Verse 35: “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother”.

Who do you belong to? Where do you get your sense of belonging? These are interesting questions. As I think back over the years of my life, I can think of many times when I felt a sense of belonging, a sense that there was genuine community. During summers, for about twenty years, I worked with a group of guys on a certain staining project. We shared a deep sense of comraderie that would return in an instant if we reunited after six years off. For many years a group of guys gathered on Sunday afternoon to play pick-up basketball. Many men came and went from that group, but there was a core group that was really close. And then was our church. Who do you belong to? Where do you belong?

As human beings we have a great need to belong. We are social creatures. That is how God designed us. In early childhood we begin to feel the need to fit in, to find a group of friends. This feeling stays with us our whole lives. Being alone and feeling alone are two of the greatest challenges facing many people today.

One of our natural places of belonging is our families. There we find a love and acceptance that is unconditional. It is the type of love that led Jesus’ mother and brothers to try and intervene to make sure that He was eating and taking care of Himself.

When they arrive to express this love, Jesus responds in a way that seems odd to us. He looks at the crowd gathered around Him and says, “Here are my mother and my brothers”! Jesus goes on to explain, “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother”. We do hope that He goes out to see them. And to give His mom a kiss. But we don’t know. We do understand Jesus’ point here. We have all experienced it in our lives. When we move to a new community, it is one of our biggest concerns – will I find a new church home? Often our strongest connections are within our community of faith. When I think about where I feel the greatest sense of belonging, it is my family and my church. In the church, all walks of life gather together as one body, united in Christ. It is here that we form loving relationships with one another and with our Lord. We belong in God’s family. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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Covenant Love and Grace

Reading: Genesis 17: 1-7 and 15-16

Verse 7: “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant… to be your God and the God of your descendants after you”.

Our God is the God of covenants. A covenant establishes a relationship between two parties. In today’s covenant with Abraham and Sarah, God establishes the covenant to be our God. As the descendants of Abraham and Sarah, we are certainly included in this covenant. Just as it was with each of us as the Holy Spirit wooed us into a relationship with God, so too did God take the initiative to start a covenant relationship with Abraham and Sarah. Abraham had trusted and obeyed God and had lived a righteous life. God, in turn, chose to bless Abraham and Sarah (and us) with His covenant promise.

Although a covenant is an “I’ll love you no matter what” promise, we do still like our rules and ways to measure our relationships. We like to know what we have to do, to know how we are doing, to know how we compare to others… But our covenant relationship with God is not about checking off boxes or measuring up to some standard. It is all about God’s grace. Grace is the “no matter what” part of our relationship with God. God loves us no matter what we do or do not do, no matter what we say or do not say, no matter how we act or do not act. Grace looks past all of this and says “I love you and will always be your God”.

God invites each of us into this relationship based upon love and grace no matter what. At times, this is uncomfortable and a bit awkward. It is unsettling. As a child and then later as a husband, I’ve had a time or two or more than I can count when I’ve felt a similar love and grace when I did not deserve it. These experiences with unconditional love and forgiveness give us an idea of God’s covenant love and grace. The idea of this much love is a little frightening or even intimidating. But more than that, it is inviting. Over and over and over God invites us to get back up and to walk once again in His grace and love. He invites us to trust in His love and grace, to give up our own need for control, and to surrender fully so that we can walk where He leads. Make me willing today and each day, O Lord.


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Unconditional

Reading: Psalm 23: 5-6

Verse 5: Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life.

Friends are important.  We want to be loved and to love others.  As human beings, we need and seek community.  We each want to fit in or have our place in a community.

Today’s first verse in our passage is a bit disconcerting.  God prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies.  It is wonderful that God is preparing a table for us and that He will anoint us with oil and make our cup overflow.  But in the presence of our enemies?  Yes, in their presence too.  God’s love is universal.  All are created as a child of God and are dearly loved by their maker.  God calls us to love one and all as well.  We are not identical to each other and therefore we will have differences.  We even fight and argue occasionally with those we love the most.  So God is calling us to the table of His love with both our friends and our enemies alike, asking us to unconditionally extend His love to one and all.

In doing so we will naturally begin to break down some of the walls and barriers that we construct.  In loving our enemies as God loves them we begin to see them differently.  We begin to see the ways in which we are alike and ways in which God dwells deeply in them as well.  It can be profoundly transforming to love all people as God loves them.  When we do so, then “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life”.

May we be bearers of God’s unconditional goodness and love today.


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Love for All

Reading: John 3: 16-17

These two verses summarize the love of God for mankind.  God sent His only Son for you and I.  God sent Jesus so that we could believe in Him and have a personal relationship with Him, so that one day we could share in eternal life with Him.  It is a wonderful example of love.  It was a great sacrifice.  It is the best gift the world could ever receive.  Just to be sure we understand the gift, the second verse reminds us that Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but to save it.

God’s unconditional and unlimited love is for the world, for everyone.  Whether or not one worships God, God loves us all.  Whether or not one lives according to God’s ways, God loves all of us.  God desires for each of us to step within His love to claim our birthright as a child of God.  God wants each of us to enter our eternal rest.  Jesus came to open the way to God for all people, to provide a path that all people can walk.  Jesus modeled the way to eternal life during His earthly ministry.  Just as God’s love is for all people, love guided Jesus in all He did or said.  This is how Jesus saves the world – through love.

Do all people accept God’s love?  No.  Do those who accept His love always follow God’s ways?  Nope.  Do those who strive to follow His ways live a life without sin?  Certainly not.  In spite of all this, God still loves us.  In spite of who we are at times, God does not condemn us.  God knows who and what we are and loves us anyway.  God knew who and what we were, and God still sent Jesus, so that through His sacrifice, we could all enter our eternal rest.  It is unconditional love and the ultimate sacrifice rolled up into the greatest gift we have ever been given.  It is a gift meant to be shared.

Each day, as we live out our life as a disciple of Jesus Christ, we are called to share this gift with others.  We are called to let the whole world know that God loves them.  We share the gift so that all may one day live in the personal relationship with Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.  To the ends of the world we go!


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Steadfast and True Love

Reading: Hosea 11: 1-4

“If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a million times”.  This oft-quoted parenting line may be familiar to you.  It’s familiarity is closely followed by the line, “When will you listen”?  This second line is probably thought more than it is shared!  Both seem to be staples of parenting.  As parents we try to reach out children all they need to know to grow into mature young adults.  We pour all we can into them hoping they turn out well.  When they stumble or fail, we love them anyway and we continue to pour our love and guidance into them.  They are ours and we love them dearly.

As one reads the Hosea passage, one can imagine God saying or thinking these familiar parenting lines.  Verse two particularly stood out to me: “The more I called Israel, the further they went from me”.  There are times when we too have felt as if our child had done exactly the opposite of what we asked.  So, as parents, we can relate to the frustration God is voicing about His children.

When I reflect on my life, I do not have to think too long or too hard to recall many times when I am sure I disappointed or frustrated God.  There is a long list of missed opportunities and poor decisions that I am sure leave God shaking His head.  My heavenly Father says over and over again, “John, when will you…?”

The love we know and experience as earthly parents is just a fraction of the heavenly love God has for us, His earthly children.  No matter how many times we fail, question His love, or choose something other than His will or way for us, His love never changes.  His love remains steadfast and true.  May our grateful response this day be to share His amazing love with all we meet.


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New

Reading: Acts 11: 1-10

This day, may we experience God in a new or unexpected way.  May God break into our ordinary and reveal Himself to us in a way that grows our faith.  May it be through an encounter with Him or through someone who crosses our path this day.

In today’s text, Peter encounters God in a new way that totally changed how He looked at a whole group of people.  It was a radical shift that was made in a relatively short time frame.  Today’s story has two lessons for us as we continue on our faith journey.

First, God is patient.  God did not reveal the vision of the sheet and animals once and then hope Peter understood.  He kept running the vision until Peter understood what God wanted him to know.  We too require God’s patience.  The person God wants us to minister to or to enter a caring relationship with may come to us repeatedly if necessary – maybe in person, maybe through the Spirit bringing them to our mind, maybe through a conversation with another person – until we realize God is at work.  Then we must respond.

Second, God seeks to increase our faith through our experiences.  Peter knew that God loved him and the Jewish people through his life experiences.  Culturally and religiously he had been taught exclusivity in God’s love for humanity.  Through the vision, Peter’s understanding of God’s love  grew greatly.  Peter came to know God’s love as universal and unconditional and unlimited.  He now knew how BIG God’s love is.  We too must come to know this.  Once we understand that God loves all people, then how we seek, look at, interact with, relate to, and love others is radically changed.  May we  see that person or those people today in a new way, through eyes and a heart that reflects the vast and unconditional, unlimited, universal love of God.